Special thanks to Congresswoman Jane Harman for her letter to Congressman Oberstar
requesting that in addition to safety, the potential health impacts to those who live near Santa Monica Airport, especially
children and seniors, should be focused on at the recent Jan 29, 2008 meeting in Washington D.C..
CLICK HERE for Letter from Jane Harman
Summary Of January 29, 2008 Washington, DC Meeting
On SMO Safety
by Marc Carrel, Deputy Chief of Staff
Office of Congresswoman
I wanted to give you an update on the meeting last week in Washington with Santa Monica
and the FAA. I flew to Washington, DC to join Congresswoman Harman in the meeting
on Tuesday January 29, 2008 with Congressman Henry Waxman and House Transportation Committee Chairman James Oberstar and their
staffs. Also in attendance were Associate FAA Administrator Kirk Shaffer (accompanied by about 8 FAA staff), a sizeable
delegation from Santa Monica including the City Manager, City Attorney, Mayor pro Tem, and Airport Director, among others.
Mr. Waxman opened the meeting explaining that Santa Monica and the FAA have tried to resolve
the issues of safety for the last five years and there is little to show for it. Congresswoman Harman said there was
no disagreement between her and Rep. Waxman on the safety issues. They both want to see Santa Monica Airport be as safe
as possible. That was why Santa Monica wanted to install runway safety areas with EMAS beds that complied with the FAA
standards for new airport construction. Rep. Harman expressed opposition to the FAA proposal which would install shorter
RSAs and EMAS beds than the FAA requires for new airports, and would add an extension to the runway on the east thereby bringing
the end of the runway where jets sit and idle even closer to West L.A. homes.
The folks from Santa Monica then spoke and presented their case to Chairman Oberstar.
He was very engaged in the discussion and asked several questions to both Santa Monica and the FAA. But Kirk Shaffer
of the FAA seemed to be unwilling to move at all from their position and was unwilling to accept that there might be a safety
problem at SMO.
The FAA also brought up the issue of a Runway Protection Zone (RPZ) which could be created
by purchasing homes on both ends of the runways. Everyone in the room was incredulous as Chairman Oberstar asked how many
homes this would require taking, and how much it would cost to buy the homes and move people to comparable ones. Santa
Monica said they estimated it would be 128 homes and the cost could reach $250 million. Oberstar stated that this proposal
by the FAA was not practical, and Shaffer responded that his agency had spent similar amounts for an RPZ before (although
not for a general aviation airport), and it would only be a voluntary program – only people who wanted to sell there
homes would. We all rolled our eyes at this one.
After some discussion on the issue of C and D aircraft,
suing SMO, and the fact that installing an RSA at each end with an EMAS bed would inhibit some of the larger aircraft from
using SMO, Shaffer made it clear they did not want to impact any aircraft.
Rep. Harman asked if they couldn’t fly into other nearby airports such as Hawthorne,
Torrance or Van Nuys. She pushed the FAA to clarify whether the fractional jet companies flying their larger aircraft
wouldn’t agree to divert to nearby airports or refuel en route to accommodate the lower weight requirements warranted
if the larger RSAs and EMAS beds are installed. The meeting was supposed to last one hour, but after an hour and twenty
minutes Rep. Oberstar excused himself for another meeting. He said it was a very intriguing situation – he seemed
to see it as a puzzle to solve.
Before he left Rep. Harman asked if she could bring up another issue besides the runway
safety areas. She discussed her concerns about the noise and air pollution caused, particularly, by the larger jets
increasingly using SMO over the past decade. In 2006, she urged the FAA to do something about the idling jets at the
end of the runway. They are sitting there waiting for clearance to take off from LAX Tower because the planes are within
3 miles of the flight path at LAX. But the FAA began a pilot project to designate a flight path for NetJets flights
at SMO with guidance from GPS, which will bring them out farther than 3 miles from the flights at LAX, meaning they would
not need permission from LAX to take off. Unfortunately, the pilot project did not work and many NetJets flights were
closer than 3 miles from the LAX flight path. Rep. Harman asked the FAA to restart the process and see if they can’t
work out the problems. Kirk Shaffer of the FAA said that the FAA has actually been working on it for about 90 days now,
and they hoped to have a workable flight path to test by mid summer.
Rep. Harman also asked about mitigation funds for the impacts on air quality around the
airport. Given that Santa Monica is not willing to take FAA funds for improvements to the airport, she asked if there
was a method to provide mitigation funds to another entity, like the City of LA or LA World Airports (the agency that runs
LAX) since SMO is a reliever airport for LAX. But Shaffer responded that the current FAA Reauthorization bill currently
stalled in the Senate does not include any funds for mitigation of air quality impacts from airports, and previous programs
primarily funded commercial airports. So unless the bill could be changed in the Senate…But Oberstar said that
was extremely difficult to do and unlikely to happen given that the Senate is wrestling with other aspects of the bill.
After Oberstar left, Santa Monica and the FAA continued their often heated discussion
about RSAs, EMAS beds, and safety on the runways at SMO. Kirk Shaffer denied there was a safety issue – even when
recent crashes at other general aviation airports were brought up. Shaffer even said he didn’t see the need for
the wall at the end of the runway, to which the Mayor pro tem replied, that if it hadn’t been there the plane that went into bushes two weeks ago may have gone over the embankment and fallen 60 feet below.
And a minor accident could have become a tragedy.
Waxman excused himself about 20 minutes after Oberstar, but Rep. Harman remained to try
to push the parties closer, and to remind folks about the noise and air issues. And about 20 minutes later, when the
meeting finally broke, she had convinced the FAA to agree to look into approving the Santa Monica plan if the “stakeholders”
the FAA consulted with (i.e. fractional jet companies and pilots) agreed to use other airports for the jets with the heaviest
loads – those that would be prohibited from using SMO if the runway length were shortened due to Santa Monica’s
preferred RSA proposal.
Later that day, following the meeting, Rep. Harman saw Rep. Oberstar. He told her
that he had some ideas he was thinking about and he urged Santa Monica to hold off and not enact their ordinance right away
until he had time to consider a few things. He did not make clear what these options were, but seemed sincere that he
hoped he could bring the issue of safety to a resolution. As for air quality, Rep. Harman has asked her staff
to look and see if any other agencies might have air pollution mitigation funds since the FAA will not have any.
In the end, Rep. Harman thought the meeting was productive. She knows the FAA is
not easy to deal with on these issues, but she is hopeful that continuing the dialogue (if even for just a little longer),
and thinking creatively, will lead to results. We shall see.
Deputy Chief of Staff
Office of Congresswoman Jane Harman
Summary Of January 29, 2008
Washington, DC Meeting On SMO Safety
by Richard Bloom, Mayor pro Tem | City of Santa Monica
On Tuesday, I participated in a meeting convened
by the Honorable Chair of the Aviation Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives,
Charles Oberstar. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the City of Santa
Monica’s unanimously supported ban on Class C & D jets at Santa Monica Airport in support of runway safety. The ban was enacted after more than five years of frustrating lack of progress on
the issue due entirely to FAA intransigence. Now, the FAA has threatened legal
action, principally because they believe that the ban will unreasonably affect access to the airport by some jets.
Our Congressman, Henry Waxman, had requested
the meeting with Chairman Oberstar. Mr. Waxman attended and was joined by the
Honorable Jane Harman along with members of all three Congressional staffs.
Our delegation in Washington consisted of
myself, City Manager Lamont Ewell, City Attorney Marsha Moutrie, Asst City Attorney Marty Tachiki, Airport Director Bob Trimborn,
Government Relations Assistant to the City Manager Kate Vernez and one of the City’s technical consultants.
The FAA was represented by their Associate
Director of Airports, Kirk Shaffer and a phalanx of FAA staff and attorneys.
When Chair Oberstar called the meeting to
order he indicated his desire that the issue be discussed with a view towards finding a way to resolve our differences. Congressman
Waxman flatly stated that he felt the City had negotiated in good faith for many years and had nothing to show for it. There ensued a cordial but tense debate between the City and the FAA. Chair Oberstar asked many questions and made many comments.
Mr. Shaffer repeated his contention
that reasonable proposals had been made to the City. One of these proposals is
that a minimum standard runway safety zone be installed. The City objects to
this proposal because it will not provide safety in many potential overrun situations.
Another proposal is that the City purchase homes and pay for relocation of approximately 172 homes in Los Angeles and
Santa Monica at an estimated cost of up to 350 million dollars.
On the City’s behalf, we explained why
we feel that the C & D ban is the safest option available and that various other proposals discussed were far superior
to the FAA’s.
Mr. Shaffer and I sat directly opposite one
another during the meeting and had a number of polite but heated exchanges. The atmosphere in the room was tense at times.
At the close of the meeting, all three Congressional
members asked us to continue talking. Without waiving any of our rights or intentions,
I readily agreed to do so as did Mr. Shaffer.
I am quite convinced that Chair Oberstar found
this meeting enlightening and informative and that he now has a fuller appreciation of the positions of the City and the FAA. While, obviously, I cannot speak for the Chairman, it appeared to me, from his comments
and questions, that he is deeply skeptical of some of the FAA’s basic contentions, in particular, the practicality of
a purchase of neighborhood homes. Yet, I hasten to point out: Mr. Shaffer
yielded no ground at the meeting.
I expect that the three Congressional staffs
will engage in continuing discussions amongst themselves, the City and FAA. The
course of these discussions is impossible to predict but will, hopefully, at some point, yield positive results.
Frankly, there is much at stake as we move
forward. The time-consuming and expensive legal battle that lies ahead carries
with it a good deal of risk. I remain optimistic that with the good offices of
our Congressional leaders, we might successfully find a non-litigated agreeable means to providing for our singular overriding
concern: public safety. A fair and appropriate resolution (which will require City Council consideration and approval) would
have the dual benefit of providing us with certainty: a defined safety plan that could be implemented now.
I was very proud to be part of our team in
Washington and have the opportunity to join senior staff to advocate on this critical issue.
We were highly motivated, well prepared and made our case with clarity and vigor.
The meeting met and exceeded my expectations in that I believe we were able to convincingly demonstrate to our Congressional
leaders that the City's policy direction and position is fundamentally reasonable. There
is no question in my mind that Chair Oberstar, Congressman Waxman and Congresswoman Harman were all favorably impressed.
Mayor pro Tem | City of Santa Monica